The F1 races start on March 14

The F1 races start on March 14, in Bahrain, with four new teams: while these teams have started from scratch, the design effort and engineering poured into the yearly redesigns – to meet new rules and also to gain a competitive advantage – competes with the defence, mobile phone or aviation industries in terms of spin-off into commercial engineering products. It is also significant that the recent stories in terms of espionage have related to engineering for the F1 industry instead of the defence industry, highlighting the effort surrounding new developments.

In the same way as happens with defence projects, it is very difficult to get any PR stories published, describing the application, even if your particular product makes a crucial difference to whether a Formula 1 team wins or loses! Particularly in the UK, there are many engineering and sensor companies developing and supplying products to meet the F1 car and engine requirements, whether for race use or for the sometimes more significant effort needed for test equipment and performance testing beforehand. For example some of the wind tunnel test facilities around the UK would probably have not been viable without the support of the companies testing such racing cars. Incidentally, the new Virgin Racing Cosworth powered team has used no wind tunnel testing – all the car designs have been produced using advanced CFD techniques: which is helping to develop another useful technology.

Actually, the commercial interests behind F1 depend on publicity and PR, right from the race organisers through to the racing teams. It is their main saleable item. It costs a lot of money to have a small logo anywhere on or associated with an F1 car, so there is no way XYZ Engineering, who supplied say a flowmeter, would be allowed to quote the fact, because it would detract from the sponsors and their kudos, allocated after being allowed to pay for their presence in the publicity chain.

The trouble is, Google does not “do” subtle. So when a company like Exact Flow from Arizona circulates a PR suggesting that their flowmeters might be suitable for use in F1 cars, the internet searches will produce the desired effect, linking their names. The reverse is the truth: if they were supplying any F1 team, even for engine test bed monitoring, they would be contractually prohibited from any mention of the fact. So we know they are not in the supply list of any team, even the new US F1 team from their latest press announcement. .

What we can say is that there have been some authentic motor racing applications of flowmeters described on Processingtalk: the land speed record for a steam powered car, won by the British Steam Car Company back in August last year, used Pelton wheel flowmeters from Litre Meter to measure the flow of the water to the two banks of 6 boilers down each side of their car (Link). Monitoring engine performance in test beds, including hydraulic oil and fuel monitoring systems, is a standard application for OG Series oval gear meters from Titan (Link). One of the latest projects that will certainly have some spin-off into engineering news for sensors and controls is the Bloodhound SSC 1000mph car being currently developed (Link). One of the few Processingtalk stories that does quote the Monza Formula 1 circuit is from Veolia Water, who have installed a sewage sludge processing facility there (Link). But if you want to find out who supplied flowmeters to the 2009 Formula 1 teams, you have to ask, it just does not get published!

[Editor’s note: no-one has asked me, by May 2010!]